Ousmane Sembene’s debut feature made a profound impression at international film festivals in 1966, and the evolution of African cinema can be dated from this point. Shot in a simple, New Wave style, it tells a bitter story of exile and despair. The heroine is a Senegalese maid taken to the Riviera by her employers. Once out of Africa she realizes that being African means being a thing: “the black girl.” Sober and restrained, the film never loses sight of its central theme of the myth of decolonization, and issues of identity, racism and cultural expectation.
Among the issues discussed during our Squishtalk were the dangers inherent in imagined, unrealistic expectations, especially those that we construct ourselves and therefore struggle the most to come to terms with when our anticipated experiences do not materialize. For Sembene’s heroine, Diouana, this led to fatal consequences. For our Squishtalks participants, their outcomes were less tragic, but still resonant. How do you continue in life to maintain belief in optimism and hope when expectations have been dashed cruelly?
We also challenged our own tendencies (okay, my own biases) to form opinions solely from our own perspective, when there is, trite as this may be, always multiple views to weigh up. In Black Girl, Diouana is the narrator and we understand the drama from her perspective, yet there is enough ambiguity and confusion in the film to provoke us to view her experience from other angles.
On Sunday, the next collaboration with Film Streams will follow the screening of Lionel Rogosin’s remarkable documentary of life on skid row: On the Bowery. Ray Salyer, the main character of the film, was a war veteran who became well-known for his role in On the Bowery and was offered parts in Hollywood movies. But deciding that drink was more important, one night he just hopped a train and was never heard from again. His fate is one of the great mysteries of cinema. I hope to chat with you after the film.